Life in the Slow Lane

Contemplating life, faith, words, and memories

Getting Back on Track — June 15, 2016

Getting Back on Track

Feature image attribution
Feature image attribution

Getting back on track now we’re home after riding the rails across this country (almost) and back isn’t easy. Getting back on track after several months of fighting unrelenting pain is also difficult. Combine the two and I literally don’t know where to start.

Start at the Beginning

I suppose the safest place to start is at the beginning of our rail riding experience. Initially, our trip was single-purposed: attend our younger grandson’s high school graduation. Plus we wanted some extra days to soak up our son’s family since we only see them about once every three years or so.

Our first stop along the way was the ever-bustling city of Chicago where we rented a car to drive the rest of the way to Springfield, TN, where our son, his wife, and their son live. Grandson, Steven Michael (aka Mikey), was graduating from East Robertson High School on May 20th and we rolled in on the 19th.

Graduation was a fairly routine ceremony–procession, speeches, awards, diplomas, recession, camera flashes, tears, laughter, tossing of hats, etc. Rather than chain this well-honored student to family, we released him to enjoy a party with friends. After all, we had a few more days with him.

The three guys–Grandpa, Steve, and Mikey–spent a day drooling over Corvettes at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY, as well as a tour of the assembly plant.

While they did their thing, DIL Amy and I took in some retail therapy at Opry Mills Outlet Stores, the former site of Opryland. We did more talking and drinking cool drinks (it was hot!) than we did buying retail items, but the entire day was good for our souls.

Leaving these three as well as Amy’s parents was not easy, but leave we must and so we drove back to Chicago to drop off our rental and pick up the train headed back to the Northwest.

Another Celebration in the Middle

Fran with granddaughter, Emma (last photo)
Fran with granddaughter, Emma (last photo)

Just before we left home we received word that Bob’s sister, Frances (87), had passed away following a stroke. A memorial service was scheduled for May 27th in the afternoon. Our route home passed within three hours north of Avon, where the service would be held. We changed our rail tickets, ordered up another rental, and got off Amtrak in Whitefish, MT, on May 26th at 8:45pm.

Our drive was in total darkness down a long and winding road with few possibilities for stops. However, with Steady Bob at the wheel we made it without incident to our hotel in Helena. Early the morning of the 27th we drove to the home of our nephew and his family for breakfast. Fran’s older son, Walt, and his wife, Marilyn, have six children. Soon the two youngest will be the only two at home. The rest are either out of or in college.

What a delightful morning that was as we sat around the kitchen table eating homemade waffles, fresh fruit, and freshly made whipped cream and celebrating the life that was Fran’s. After breakfast, we headed out to the family ranch, handed down generation to generation, and now operated by Fran’s younger son, Hank. Many memories are held there as well.

Fran’s life is best summed up in a Facebook post by Timothy J. (TJ) Kerttula, the oldest of the grandchildren:

This was the passage Grammy was meditating on before she went into the hospital and this is what her bookmark says ” My meditation of Him shall be sweet.” I am going to miss her with her hugs, challenges to my spiritual walk, challenges to memorize more verses and the example she was to all her grandchildren. She poured her heart and life into us. I am thankful for the time I had with her this past week. Talking to her, even though she couldn’t talk to me. She found a way to comfort us with the squeezes from her hand and the nods of her head. Now she is in heaven with Jesus with no more pain, no more sin, singing praises to Him and gazing on His face. She has finished the race.

What an amazing hope we have through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Memories flooded our minds and hearts all day and especially during the celebration of life that afternoon. Many more people attended than expected and extra chairs had to be set up quickly. A time we were so glad to be able to share.

Unplanned side trips can be a blessing and this truly was one. Not only had we witnessed our grandson’s graduation from high school to college, we had celebrated Fran’s graduation from this life to the great life awaiting her in her heavenly home.

Back Home

Getting home and back to your own stuff is always the best part of any trip. We had driven back to Whitefish to catch the last leg of our rail trip. However, the train only stops once daily in Whitefish and that’s at 8:45pm, leaving at 9:16pm. We had a day to drive back and then kill in Whitefish. Driving around Whitefish we saw some interesting places. Some closed. Others open and crowded.

Bob explored the outdoor exhibits at the train station. We picnicked by spreading our lunch in our rental car (the wind was a bit blustery outside). With Kindles in hand, we both read, then napped, read some more, people watched, and then went somewhere for dinner (I can’t remember where!). Around 7:45pm we headed into the station to freshen up before boarding the train for home.

Following a good night’s sleep and our last meal onboard Amtrak, we pulled into Portland around 10am on Sunday, May 29th. Home never looked so good.

Getting on Track

After a doctor’s appointment that first week home, I began physical therapy and rehab for my many months of incessant pain. Interestingly enough, after all the waiting, the pain management doctor suggested an injection in a different site. During our trip (started four days after the shot), I was the most comfortable I had been since January or February. We decided based on that result I should begin PT, and I can say for the first time I actually look forward to my appointments.

This therapist has taught me so much about my spine, the curve in it and how it impacts everything about my body, and what I can do to keep up good spine health going forward. I still can’t believe that after my first appointment and some exercises and manipulations, my shoulders are level for the first time in years. My skirts even hang straight now.

I’m nowhere near the end of this journey. I don’t know yet how many appointments I have, but I do know the exercises I’ve been given are a lifetime commitment.

On an unrelated health issue, I’ve learned I will be having an exploratory procedure in July. Pending the outcome, I am keeping things low-key for now with respect to blogging, social media, book reviews, and the newsletter.

What I Learned

While traveling, I spent my time watching the countryside pass by, read a lot, took some good naps, laughed a lot, cried some, and let the busyness of computers, email and social media fall to the side.

And you know what? The world didn’t crumble at my feet. Clocks didn’t stop. God continued to bring morning with the light and evening at dusk, and He watched over us just as He does when we are frazzled and too busy to even stop and thank Him.

The lesson in all this is that I get too busy wanting to do it all, wanting to be perfect, wanting to please everyone else, wanting to measure up to expectations I read in this or that article. None of it is necessary.

The only things I need to be concerned with are satisfying God’s expectations and everything else will fall in place. Simple as that. Forever and ever!

Jeremiah 29:11
Jeremiah 29:11

Feature image attribution

SPRINGTIME MEANS … — May 13, 2016


Wooden Shoe Bulb Farm in Woodburn, OR (Via AllPosters; image by Craig Tuttle)
Wooden Shoe Bulb Farm in Woodburn, OR (Via AllPosters; image by Craig Tuttle)

… many things.

Beautifully bright colors, a warmer feel to the air, an awakening from winter, and graduation for many.

The blog will be silent for the next couple of weeks as my husband and I travel to witness our youngest grandson’s high school graduation. An exciting time for him, his parents, and the rest of his family.

The newsletter will also be a bit off-schedule coming out earlier than its usual third Wednesday of the month.

Amtrak Empire Builder via Flickr; image by Loco Steve)
Amtrak Empire Builder via Flickr; image by Loco Steve)

We’ll be riding the rails and taking in the scenery of this beautiful country we call home, something we truly enjoy.

My next post will come out on May 31st. Until then, happy writing!

Almost forgot–I need to pack! Better get busy

A Day in the Life | Finds We Make in Our Family History (Episode #6) — October 14, 2015

A Day in the Life | Finds We Make in Our Family History (Episode #6)

Family history can be filled with surprises. Good ones, and some not so good ones. Finds we make in our family history often prove or disprove something we have believed for years.When my mother died in 2001, we found so many surprises among her personal belongings. Who would have believed she’d kept every card she’d ever received from our dad and many of their friends? Every last one of them.

We couldn’t keep everything we uncovered, but one thing I was certain I would bring home with me. Handwritten facts of my mother’s early life with a list of grandchildren, her siblings, nieces, and nephews. Facts revealed I had never heard or read before.

Lately, while editing and revising my memoir, I dug out these notes and began to fact check againstthem for dates, names, and more. Yesterday I came upon something rather surprising.

As I was working with my manuscript, I picked up Mama’s notes to do some more fact-checking.  I’ve gone through life believing my name was given to me for no clear reason or relative. You know–a “just because” name. However, I am wrong!

Right there in her notes. In Mama’s own handwriting it reads:

Family History from Mama's Things in 2001
Family History from Mama’s Things in 2001

After her arrival, we named her Sherrey Alice. The Alice was given her for an aunt of mine, Uncle John’s wife. My mother always told me that Aunt Alice was such a sweet person, and I said if I ever have a little girl I’m going to name her Alice, so I did. Her Daddy put the Sherrey with it.

Now, I want to search through family photos and see if there is one of Aunt Alice because by the time I would have been old enough to know her, I believe she had passed on.

So now you and I know where my name came from, and you also know why that crazy email address reads like it does: “” Well, you almost know. But there’s more to that email address for another day.

Do you have letters, journals, or other family items, such as scrapbooks, etc., that hold family history? Have you used any of them in writing your memoir or other works? 

Seeing Memories Through a New Lense — June 10, 2015

Seeing Memories Through a New Lense

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted in response to a nonfiction essay I submitted last year. The essay’s status fell to the bottom of my pile when 12 months passed since submission.
Yet, an email popped in explaining the delay and telling me the essay on how my parents met would be published in an anthology in 2016. Still some minor adjustments were needed. These “fixes” sent me digging through boxes of memories. You do keep your memories in boxes, don’t you?

Photo by jarmoluk (Pixabay)
Photo by jarmoluk (Pixabay)

I quickly found what I was looking for, but the minutes and hours slipped by as I got caught up in examining other items in the box. An interesting thing happened while digging the day away. I remembered how things had happened in the past, generally. But I sensed something different.

As I sifted through memories, I sensed a shift, a change. An awareness of something different.

The change is in the value placed on memories when seeing them through a new lens.

Photo by Pezibear (Pixabay)
Photo by Pezibear (Pixabay)

For me, the new lens is the passage of time. Cousins, nieces, and nephews look so young and small in the images now yellowing in the box. Handwriting so solid and steady in old letters and cards now looks less solid and steady. Has it been that long?

Sadly, some of the memories are of times spent with family and friends now gone. Images of visits to their homes in the last three decades bring back cherished childhood memories as well. Has it been that long?

Each memory found, seen through a new lens, and tucked back in the box will be the basis for a post here, an essay submitted somewhere, or the genesis for a second book.

An absolute treasure trove awaits us as each few years pass by. We grow older (sorry, but we do!). We grow wiser and sometimes forgetful. We experience the sour taste of losing friends and relatives, yet know they are in a better place. And miraculously, what seemed strange or silly when we were in our teens or young adult years becomes a gift, a treasured memory seen differently.

How about your memories in a box? Have you brought them out lately? Wonder what you would find looking through a new lens? Maybe it’s time to find out!

Second Cousins Mean More Than You Know — June 3, 2015

Second Cousins Mean More Than You Know

Where did I come from? Which relatives do I look like?

I was 12 when I first met any of my dad’s family. Raised in an orphanage, Daddy was separated from his sister and brother around 16. But he had persevered in his search for them, and in 1958 he found them living in Florida.

Daddy’s sister, Lucinda (aka Lucy), her husband, and their daughter lived in Tampa, FL, and his brother, Fred and his wife and daughter, lived in Orlando. We traveled to meet them all.

Our first stop was in Tampa at Aunt Lucy’s. In the back of my mind, I assumed Aunt Lucy would look like most of my relatives–slender and petite. Even my dad was small in stature but then his health had been poor since before I was born.

The slender and petite rankled my near adolescent mind as I was what I considered a “chunkette.” I despised how I looked, especially at family gatherings. Based on my dad’s slight build, I assumed his relatives would be the same.

Daddy and Aunt Lucy during a 1963 visit. Aunt Lucy was 67 at the time.
Daddy and Aunt Lucy during a 1963 visit. Aunt Lucy was 67 at the time.

I’ll never forget as Aunt Lucy opened the door to our ringing the doorbell. There I stood with a few decades added on. I’m not sure if my gasp was audible, but I felt it. My existence as a “chunkette” was affirmed! Aunt Lucy was the relative I resembled.

That evening Aunt Lucy and Uncle Tom’s daughter, Jean, and her two daughters joined us for dinner. Jean was a lovely woman nearer my mother’s age than mine, but she was my cousin despite the age difference. The second cousin relationship was explained to my brother and me as Jean introduced her daughters, Barbara and Sherrill.

Barbara was beautiful! Diminutive in size, blonde and tanned, and blue eyes, she could have been a model except for her height. At first, I could only focus on her with envy. Then Sherrill entered the dining room.

It happened again–I saw myself taking the chair beside me. We looked alike, both in facial features and stature. Our hands were almost identical in shape and size. Our names were even similar! How gracious God was to bring me two images of what I’d look like at Sherrill’s age, then 22, and Aunt Lucy at 62.

I gloried in this new-found glimpse of people whom I favored. My gene pool could most definitely be found on Daddy’s family tree. This was a happy moment.

Just a matter of time–all good things come to an end.

As time slipped by and we moved to Oregon from Tennessee, farther away from Florida and family, I kept in touch with my cousin, Jean. Not only a lovely woman but also gracious, Jean has always stayed in touch with me over the years. Her husband was killed in WWII leaving her with Barbara and Sherrill. When her parents left Kentucky for Florida, she moved her little family with them.

Over the years both my Aunt Lucy and  Uncle Tom passed away, and Jean’s girls married and began their families leaving Jean in the spacious house in Tampa. Aunt Lucy’s life ended at the same time Barbara’s young daughter was killed in an automobile accident and shortly afterwards, Barbara ended her life.

This meant Jean and my second cousin, Sherrill, were my only family members left on Daddy’s side. His brother Fred had also passed away and his family chose not to stay connected with us.

Jean had mentioned in letters Sherrill’s poor health over the last almost seven years. Yet she never mentioned specifics, and I didn’t ask.

Knowing I owed Jean a letter, I laughed when Bob handed me another letter from her in Friday’s mail. I was certain she was reminding me of my tardiness. As I opened the envelope, a clipping from the Tampa newspaper fell out. Only it wasn’t just any clipping. It was Sherrill’s obituary. Now, she too is gone. My mirror images have faded away in Aunt Lucy and Sherrill. But my memories of them have not faded. I’m so grateful for the few images I have of Aunty Lucy, and somewhere (don’t ask!) I have a photo of Sherrill and me.

At 100 this month, my cousin, Jean, is my last living relative on the Adams side of my family history. I spoke with her by phone on Saturday, and we laughed over my adolescent need to “identify” myself with some family member. We agreed I couldn’t have chosen two more delightful women to look like and with whom to share common interests.

My cousin, Jean Shivell Bell, in 2006 at age 91.
My cousin, Jean Shivell Bell, in 2006 at age 91.

Whatever you do don’t waste an opportunity to stay in touch with family.

Time is short. Days fly by. We get busy and think about people, especially family, but often it gets lost in the next task or errand. I had not seen Sherrill since 1976, and our lives had grown apart due to age difference and lifestyles. Not a good reason not to try to contact her now and then.

Because time flies by, don’t waste an opportunity to write, email, or call that family member who just crossed your mind.

Is there someone you should get in touch with sooner than later?

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